By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
With Johnny Cash on the radio, Monica Weakley's truck bounces over U.S. Forest Service as she heads deep in Stanislaus National Forest, bound for a Tuolumne River tributary she is committed to protecting.
As Sierra Nevada program director for Tuolumne River Trust, Weakley is new to the fight over the Clavey River.
A Virginia native, she has lived in Groveland just three years. But the 1990s fight to dam the 47-mile waterway and provide power to the Central Valley is not lost on her.
The battle began in 1986 and ended in 1995, after $9 million was spent on engineering, environmental studies and other facets of the huge hydroelectric proposal.
Most of that money came from the pockets of Turlock Irrigation District rate payers, who would have used the energy created by the dam to fill peak power demands.
But as a partner, Tuolumne County shelled out $1.7 million to ensure Tuolumne Utilities District received a share of the revenue to put toward its Stanislaus River water system.
The plan was shelved on the recommendation of then-Clavey River Project Director John Mills because of decreased demand, growth and complex environmental issues.
Weakley now works with the River Trust, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, to make sure the issue never resurfaces again.
With help from a bill introduced earlier this month by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, Weakley might get her wish.
The river qualifies for wild-and-scenic designation under Forest Service criteria, and Boxer's California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act of 2003 would forever make the Clavey off-limits to dams and diversions.
"This plan is to preserve a few wild and scenic rivers in their natural state," Weakley said. "There's only a few left, so let's do it."
Boxer's bill would also change the designation of other areas in the Stanislaus National Forest from multi-use to wilderness, which means stricter protection.